Libyans surrender weapons

Libyans surrender weapons

Libyans surrender weapons

A Libyan man hands over ammunition to army officers during a ceremony in Tripol. Libyans begin handing over their weapons as the government launchs an initiative in the country to curb arms proliferation. EPA photo

Hundreds of Libyans handed in weapons left over from last year’s war at the weekend, part of a drive by the Libyan authorities to rid the country’s streets of arms and to crack down on rogue militia groups.

Trickles of people gradually became longer lines in Tripoli and in the eastern city of Benghazi, where tents were set up in squares for military officials to collect arms, explosives and even rocket propelled grenade launchers. Amid a celebratory atmosphere, women and children looked on as men queued to turn over their weapons as they listened to a military marching band and pop music. “We want our country to be safe and secure ... We don’t want to see weapons anymore,” Reuters quoted Tripoli resident Mohammed Salama as saying, as he stood in line to hand over a rifle.

Libya’s new rulers have struggled to impose their authority on a country awash with weapons and many Libyans are fed up with militias, formed during the war but which still patrol the streets and often take the law into their own hands. A Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed, was followed by anti-militia protests in the city last week, increasing pressure on the authorities to tackle insecurity.

Tank handover
The government has since taken a twin-track approach, vowing to dissolve rogue militias that operated without official government permission, but also offering public backing to many of the most powerful armed groups, which have official licenses to operate, as it seeks to build stronger security forces. Saad Bakar, head of a small brigade in Benghazi, handed over rifles and ammunition on Sept. 29, saying he was ready to disband his group. “We were waiting until today to make sure that the weapons go to the right place. We want to join the army as individuals,” he said.

In Benghazi, an organizer said more than 800 people had been registered at the collection point. In Tripoli, an army official did not give an exact figure but said the number had surpassed the expectations of around 200 people. One participant said he had even heard that a tank had been handed over. Those numbers suggest that a fraction of the arms that spilled out of Muammar Gadhafi’s arsenals have been handed over, but the initiative is being seen as a step forward in a country where many still keep their weapons citing a precarious security situation.

The collection drive is the result of collaboration between the army and a private television station which drummed up support through live broadcasts from Tripoli and Benghazi. Everyone who turned in weapons would receive a gift from the government including digital cameras and computers. A random lottery would choose the winner of the biggest prize, a car.